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Bonds' strange trip into history

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published August 6, 2007


Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants waits in the dugout against the San Diego Padres during a MLB game at Petco Park.
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[Getty Images]
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[AP photo]
A fan holds a sign in regard to San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds during their Major League Baseball game against the San Diego Padres in San Diego.

So why is Barry Bonds in the news every day?

Bonds, already one of baseball's most polarizing and controversial figures, just tied one of the most significant records in not just baseball but all sports, the all-time home run mark of 755 held by longtime Braves Star Hank Aaron. Aaron broke the previous mark of 714 by Babe Ruth in 1974.

Bonds, who has played the past 15 seasons for the San Francisco Giants, tied Aaron with a home run late Saturday night in San Diego.

 

What took so long?

Bonds is (relatively) old, 43 and in his 23rd major-league season, and tired, specifically his legs, which are a key to his power. Saturday's homer was just his fourth in a month.

Plus, as long as he resisted it, he admitted the pressure of the chase has worn on him, saying after Saturday's tying home run: "The hardest part is over now."

 

What's all the controversy?

Bonds is widely suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, such as steroids and human growth hormone, to make himself stronger and more durable, and thus able to hit more home runs.

Critics point to the way his body has changed since he allegedly started using shortly after turning 34 - the way he has added muscle and bulk (and how the size of his head increased, a telling sign of steroid use) and how his production has increased markedly, from averaging one home run every 16.1 at-bats to one every 8.5.

After hitting more than 40 homers only twice in his first 14 seasons, Bonds (starting at age 35) had consecutive seasons of 49, a single-season record 73, 46, 45 and 45 homers. This season, at age 43 (the same as Bucs coach Jon Gruden), he has 21.

As a result, many fans, journalists, former players and others say he cheated and there should be an asterisk on the record when he sets it, or even a separate category for steroid users and nonusers.

 

Did he do anything wrong?

Well, that depends on whom you believe. Bonds has maintained he never knowingly took any performance-enhancing drugs and points out - correctly - that he has never tested positive for doing so.

But in the book Game of Shadows, and in other reports, Bonds' use of a wide variety of sophisticated drugs is meticulously detailed, and in leaked (and published) grand jury testimony he admitted to using some substances that he didn't know were performance-enhancing drugs, including one substance he claimed was flaxseed oil.

Bonds has, however, been the subject of a lengthy (and recently extended) grand jury investigation and possibly faces indictment for perjury and tax evasion, the result of subsequent revelations. His personal trainer, Greg Anderson, has been jailed for refusing to cooperate with the investigation.

 

So what happens next?

Bonds will soon break the record, setting off what will be one of the most awkward moments in baseball history.

The Giants open a seven-game homestand tonight, and you can be sure Bonds will do everything he can to hit the record-breaking homer in San Francisco, where he remains loyally beloved, and there will be a massive celebration.

If he has to take the show back on the road (to Pittsburgh Aug. 13, Atlanta Aug. 14-16 and - if you're interested - Florida Aug. 17-20), it will be an odd scene due to the likely combination of cheers, boos and indifference - and even potential danger, as fans have thrown items, including syringes, at him in some cities.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, whose successes during his tenure will be tempered by the steroid controversy, has reluctantly followed Bonds' pursuit (recently lauding his own "Herculean" effort to be there) but won't participate in any onfield celebration, apparently not wanting to be part of the historically preserved moment. Aaron has made clear what he thinks by refusing to comment on, and barely acknowledging, Bonds.

And Bonds isn't likely to go away after his 756th homer. He said recently he plans to play next season, and if the Giants, as expected, don't want him back, he will be looking for a new home, probably with an American League that can use him as a designated hitter, and perhaps one that could use a jolt of excitement to boost sagging attendance. The Devil Rays expressed mild interest before he re-signed with the Giants for this season.

[Last modified August 6, 2007, 00:51:10]


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